Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves…

President Estelle Pearson looks behind the numbers to kickstart conversation on gender diversity in the actuarial profession.

One of the objectives that I set myself at the start of the year was to do something to encourage our female members to be ambitious about their careers.  Why, you may ask?  What do the Institute’s own statistics on gender diversity show?  Well here is how we look.

  Female Male
Banking 31% 69%
Data Analytics 35% 65%
Education 30% 70%
General Insurance 36% 64%
Health Insurance 38% 62%
Investment & Funds Management 17% 83%
Life Insurance 35% 65%
Reinsurance 31% 69%
Risk Management 37% 63%
Superannuation 32% 68%
All Other 31% 69%
Total 33% 67%


Around a third of our 4,300 members are women, and this is pretty consistent across the various practice areas – with the notable exception of investment and funds management, where less than 20% of members are female.

Looking at membership by age, there is a distinct change in the shape of our gender diversity over time.

  All members Fellow Associate Student
Age Female Male Female Male Female Male Female Male
20-35 40% 60% 33% 67% 45% 55% 41% 59%
36-50 30% 70% 27% 73% 37% 62% 40% 60%
51+ 11% 89% 10% 90% 17% 83% 0% 100%
Total 33% 67% 25% 75% 40% 60% 41% 59%


While women were only 10% or less of members 30 years ago (inferred from the proportion of female members over 50), they represent 40% of members currently under 35. I was however a little surprised to see that, even in this younger age bracket, only one-third of Fellows are women – suggesting either that our female members are taking longer to reach the Fellowship qualification, or are more likely to choose to stop at Associate level.

In terms of leadership positions at the Institute, women currently make up –

  • 33% of Council members.
  • 25% of the membership of Practice and Council Committees.
  • 29% of the Convenors of Practice and Council Committees.
  • 57% of Young Actuaries Program Organising Committees.

Our own statistics on diversity do not appear too shabby, although we still slip below the 30% ‘critical mass’ figure in some cases (this is the level at which diversity becomes more effective). However we work in industries where there remains a wide disparity between the sexes in terms of executive positions and pay; for example, I counted only three APRA authorised general insurance companies with a female CEO. And this is despite research that now concludes that having more women in senior roles is positively correlated to better company performance. Most large and even medium-sized organisations have established diversity committees, and some companies have set targets for female representation within the executive ranks. The Australian Institute of Company Directors launched a major initiative this year asking boards to ensure that 30% of their directors are female and urging the S&P/ASX200 companies to achieve this target by the end of 2018. So with an article in the press at least once a week on gender diversity, this seemed like an opportune time to do something within the actuarial profession aimed at our female members.

Following a discussion with the other women on Council – Jenny Lyon, Hoa Bui and Lisa Simpson – together with Institute Deputy CEO Elayne Grace, we decided to start with a couple of ‘Actuarial Women’s Forums’ in Melbourne and Sydney in June. We were fortunate to have the support of a number of female actuaries in influential roles agreeing to participate, and both the Sydney and Melbourne events sold out. Thanks to Angela Tong for her report on the Sydney event, which appeared recently in Actuaries Digital. Looking at the feedback on the events I took two key messages. First, there was almost universal demand for more events of this nature. Second, this should be the start of a conversation across our profession on diversity more generally.

The two women’s forums were an opportunity to bring together members from across our various practice areas which, given the ever increasing level of specialisation within the profession, happens much less often than in the past. I was part of two other important cross-practice events in May – the Insights session on the Role of the Appointed Actuary held in Sydney, and the Actuaries Summit held in Melbourne. As well as over 450 of our own members, the Summit drew Presidents or their representatives from six international actuarial associations. For those working outside the life and superannuation sectors I think that it is too easy to dismiss the Summit as not being ‘relevant’. As someone who has spent almost their whole career in the general insurance sector, I got a lot out of the plenary sessions (the economy, geopolitical risk and effective public policy to name a few of the topics covered) as well as the concurrent sessions I attended (the sustainability of hospital cover in health insurance, the early days of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, digital disruption, child protection and retail analytics). We can always do better of course; I know that David Bell has some views on the low level of representation of female plenary speakers and I have some ideas on broadening the content of the program even further, however I think that we start from a very positive place and the organisers of the Summit deserve our thanks and praise.

The Insights session on the Appointed Actuary (AA) role drew an audience of 160 across life, general and health insurance highlighting the importance of the AA role to the profession. While there has been a regulated role for actuaries in the life industry since the 1940s, the role is much more recent in general insurance (2002 in the wake of the HIH collapse) and health insurance (2004). The session followed from the work of the Life AA Taskforce, and at the urging of APRA who are undertaking a holistic review of the AA role across life and general insurance this year (and assumed the regulation of health insurers from 1 July). The session was a perfect opportunity for the profession to engage with APRA and to debate what the role of the AA was, is and should be. We will be setting up a discussion forum shortly to allow the profession to continue this conversation, and we will draw on this to provide input to APRA’s wider review of the AA role.

If you have any comments or questions on this article, my recent report to members on the June Council meeting or any other Institute matters, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.


Image of Steve Schubert
Steve Schubert says

10 July 2015

Good article Estelle (though after a recent career change I find myself in the two most male dominated cohorts - funds management and Fellows aged 51+). I had the privilege of working with 3 of the 5 women on the panel at the Women's Forum. I learnt a lot from Helen Rowell (and some of her contemporaries) about how women can craft a career without trying to act and think like a man. If we are concerned with diversity and not just equality, this is a key for me - how can we help women be successful without changing their style and thinking such that our businesses don't benefit from the diverse perspectives that women (and other groups) can bring.
Being realistic, if we want to change some of those percentages we have to influence the 67% of members who are men, as well as supporting the 33% who are women. Even in the case of men who are already "true believers" in the value of diversity, there is still a need for education and support as to what we can do (and shouldn't do) to better enable and empower women in their careers. We are all guilty of looking at the world through our own experiences and this can be a form of significant unconscious bias for men. Perhaps a future forum could be focussed on sharing a few home truths with our men - particularly white middle aged Fellows like me who are well intentioned but lack the personal experience to provide effective support and mentoring.

Image of Melinda Howes
Melinda Howes says

10 July 2015

Hi Estelle, Great article. What surprised me most was the 40/60 split amongst current students aged 20-35. At one stage I believe there were more women than men enrolling in actuarial courses in uni. Not sure what has happened here. The overall trend is however encouraging as you point out.
I think part of the reason for some women not proceeding to Fellowship is that these studies coincide with prime child-bearing ages. It's hard enough to qualify without juggling kids!

Image of Estelle Pearson
Estelle Pearson says

13 July 2015

Thanks for your comments. Melinda you make a good point on the possible reason for the slower qualification of our female members. Steve the point you make on broader engagement is consistent with the discussion we had at both the forums and some of the feedback on what to do next.

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